A Sunday Kind of Piece: Return of The Draft

Posted on 09/19/2010 by


“You sure have changed since yesterday

Without any warning

I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you well… so well” -Sunday Morning  No Doubt

Sunday kind of piece time. You know the drill. I throw some numbers together add a few charts, hard to read tables and funny pictures. You go away getting your money’s worth. Let the awesomeness begin.

Today was a day for fall cleaning in my household so I had a lot of time to think over what piece I was going to write. Do I start my new feature on the Best/Worst players for every franchise starting with the Nuggets (trust me Andres , you’ll hate it but you’ll love it)?  Do I post the draft rookie model and the second part of the Build (the model loves a certain rookie as a game changer)?. Do I update the Build me a winner manifesto(not quite feeling it yet)? Nah. I count on my readers for inspiration.

Reader Tom Mandel ( in response to my in-depth Wizards piece) asks:

“Thinking again about your remark that ‘you’re better off w/ later, cheaper picks” — you must mean, obviously, *more* later picks. That is, surely a team is better off with a #1 pick than a #19 pick for example — even though the sliding pay scale does somewhat equalize the “value” of picks…”

Tom asks a great question and by now you should know I cannot resist a draft question. I started to answer it in the comments section prior to writing this post but once I broke out excel and went into goddamn Bat-research mode

Been meaning to work this in for a while now.

I realized that inspiration was once again tapping the back of my head with a two by four. Here’s the thing much like in the NFL I’ve come to the conclusion that in most situations I’d prefer drafting later rather than earlier in the NBA. The number 1 pick (particularly recently)  is not a good place to be and to prove it I’m going to rank some rookies.

Now before we go on, let’s review some of the work done previously on the draft and review the theory.

The Recap:

Part 1: Finding Elite Rookies in the NBA Draft or How the NBA Draft is a Lottery

Part1a: The Top 33 Rookies in the Past 33 Years

The WSJ Piece: Arturo Galletti Evaluates 30 Years of the NBA Draft for the Wall Street Journal

Part 2: Ranking 30 Years of Draft Picks

Some quick background
This article uses Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] to evaluate player’s performance.* This measure uses three key components to evaluate a player:

  • The player’s per minute box score statistics
  • The player’s team’s per minute box score statistics
  • The average performance at the player’s position (PG, SG, SF, PF or C)

A full explanation can be found here. To give a general scale, an average player has a WP48 score of 0.100. The very best players in the league usually have a WP48 over 0.300. To put this in perspective; an average player who plays a full season at 24 minutes a game would generate around four wins for their team.  In contrast, a player posting a 0.300 WP48 would generate more than twelve wins in this time on the court.

How good are GMs at finding talent?

Not Very.

  • If we rank picks in terms of Wins Produced we get:
  1. Pick 1
  2. Pick 3
  3. Pick 5
  4. Pick 2
  5. Pick 4
  6. Pick 9
  7. Pick 7
  8. Pick 11
  9. Pick 6
  10. Pick 10
  • If we rank picks in terms of WP48 we get:
  1. Pick 1
  2. Pick 3
  3. Pick 5
  4. Pick 9
  5. Pick 26
  6. Pick 2
  7. Pick 11
  8. Pick 4
  9. Pick 30
  10. Pick 24

So it seems like in general teams get good value from the number one pick. But the data points to a talent evaluation model for NBA teams that is not very efficient at delivering value.

What makes a good draft Pick?

When looking back at draft picks over history it is easy to get confused. We “know” or are told who the best players are .  To prevent this, when looking at draft picks we will use statistics and analysis to come to our conclusions.

The first and most critical question is how do we measure a good draft pick. We should consider the following factors:

  • The players contract is important so we will look at players over the first four years of his career (i.e his rookie contract)
  • Overall productivity (i.e. Wins Produced) is important
  • Per minute performance (i.e WP48 ) is important
  • A small sample size is bad so any player playing less that 1600 minutes ( about 4.9 minutes a game) in 4 years will be excluded .
  • Where the player is picked is important. His value should be compared to relative value at his position. So average Wins produced per pick and average WP48 per pick will be important.

Players are ranked based on four factors (WP48,Wins Produced,WP48 -Average WP48 at Pick,Wins Produced-Average Wins Produced at Pick). Once we have a players’ ranks for these four number we will average them and proceed to rank the players based on their composite rank (or Draft Rank). Draft Rank should give us an effective tool for measuring the value and “goodness” or “badness “ of a pick.

But enough with the recap let’s get back to matter at hand.

The Best Draft Picks since 2000

To answer the initial question  (Do I believe that :“you’re better off w/ later, cheaper picks”), let’s take a look at the best 25 draft choices after 4 years from 2000 thru 2006:

The average of pick for these players is 19. In fact if i look at the five best players for every year (Ranked by WP48):

7 Years, 35 Players and only 9 went in the top 5.  The best guys went 43(Redd),2(Chandler),34(Boozer),1(Lebron, yes Cleveland did get the best player in the draft two straight years and in 8 years blow it all away),1 (Howard),4(Paul), and  21 (Rondo).  So if i’m sitting at four I have a better than 50% chance of having the best guy be available and at ten I’m guaranteed a shot at top five talent and he’ll be much cheaper.

Let’s review.  A lower pick:

  • Still gives me a mostly equal opportunity for talent (Equal Reward).
  • Get paid less money and are expected to do less (Lower Risk).

My earlier conclusion stands,  in most situations I’d prefer drafting later (6-15)  rather than earlier (1-5)  in the NBA. If I can find some sucker (sorry fellow GM) to trade me good players or picks as well? Fantastic! At the end of the day, The more lottery tickets I buy, the more likely I am to win the lottery.

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